After successive nights with northwesterly winds (unusual on Long Island in 
recent years), the barrier beach was predictably active both mornings this 
weekend. Although the light precip on Saturday morning apparently deterred a 
lot of my friends, it did not discourage the large group of intrepid 
elementary, middle, and high school science teachers who joined me on the 
Seatuck Teachers’ Ecology Workshop at the Fire Island Lighthouse Tract. And, as 
Glenn noted from the North Shore, bird activity was tremendous, despite the 

One theme that was hard to miss this weekend was the finch flight, which is 
building nicely this fall. Purple Finches are moving very heavily along the 
coast, and Pine Siskins and American Goldfinches were migrating in decent 
numbers yesterday. In addition, Pipits were conspicuous overhead both mornings, 
and there was a nice mix of early and late fall migrants in general.

The most striking thing to me, however, and something I honestly don’t 
understand, was the ongoing and seemingly coordinated invasion by Red-bellied 
Woodpeckers and Red-breasted Nuthatches, which accelerated yesterday to an 
astonishing level. Red-bellied Woodpecker used to be rare on the barrier beach, 
and even into the early years of its abundance on the adjacent Long Island 
mainland, it remained scarcer on the beach than, for instance, Red-headed 
Woodpecker. In recent years, however, it has emerged as an irruptive migrant, 
occurring both spring and fall in highly variable numbers from year to year, 
with an overall trend toward increasing high counts. Before this year, my daily 
high count at Fire Island was 20. This was recorded almost as a footnote on the 
tremendous flight day of 25 October 2014, which was memorable in many ways, but 
which also was part of a season that featured Purple Finches, Pine Siskins, 
Red- and White-breasted Nuthatches, and various other forest-breeding species 
(check out the listserv archives!).

Anyway, that total was smashed by some of my vismig colleagues on 30 September 
of this year, when they tallied 26 Red-bellied Woodpeckers in morning flight at 
Robert Moses SP. Crippled by jealousy since that day, I’d been yearning for a 
chance to see such things myself. And yesterday, it happened. Between 7:20 and 
11:20, from a stationary position, my colleagues and I counted 71 Red-bellied 
Woodpeckers passing from east to west—possibly a new high count for New York 
State. We also counted 104 Red-breasted Nuthatches (and a locally notable total 
of five White-breasted Nuts—cruising through the airspace like miniature 
Red-bellies), as well as 37 Purple Finches and 83 Pine Siskins.

I can understand why Red-breasted Nuthatches and Purple Finches fly in the same 
years, because their breeding ranges overlap so broadly that factors affecting 
one would naturally affect the other. But the breeding ranges of Red-bellied 
Woodpecker and Red-breasted Nuthatch are about as exclusive as is possible for 
areas of such size. Where are the woodpeckers coming from?

Shai Mitra
Bay Shore 

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